Reviewed: November 20, 2005
Released: October 24, 2005
First of all, let me say right now that I played The Sims, the original PC version way back when it first released, and while it did have a certain "just 5 more minutes" draw to it, ultimately the game felt too shallow and had far too much repetitive boring stuff to be really fun. So now I have been asked to review The Sims 2 for the Xbox. This is not the same game, from what I have been told, as the PC version of the same name, but the basic gameplay of living out the lives of virtual people is the same, at least.
The Sims 2 features are:
There are two basic gameplay modes to choose from. Story mode really seems to be misnamed, since it doesn't actually seem to tell any story. However, what it does do is progress through the lives of multiple sims and by meeting certain goals, you can unlock new areas to explore and new things to do. The other mode is called Freeplay mode, with the main difference being that you can create a whole family (or use a pre-generated one) from the beginning and in fact can reconstruct your entire home from scratch if you choose.
Whichever mode you chose, you're going to need to create a sim first. The interface for creating a custom sim is pretty easy to use. First of all the game will randomly generate your sim's grandparents and parents and based on those create the initial look of your sim. But if you don't like the look, you can greatly customize your sim's appearance using the customizer. You can not only pick from a bunch of different wardrobe options, you can also change basic features like hair style or color, skin tone, shape of body, tatoo's, etc.
This part of the game is pretty good and lets you really generate an avatar that will be unique. You also have to chose your sim's aspirations, your overall goals if you will. You really only get five choices here. You can choose to be a sex maniac, a moneygrubber, a brainiac knowledge freak, a party animal, or ... wait for it... artiste. You also have to pick a personality type, by choosing your zodiac sign, which will set values like how neat you are, how outgoing, how serious, etc.
Both of these decisions are extremely important because it will dictate your entire game experience. If you want to see a lot of PG-rated, clothes-on sim on sim (on sim!) action, then be the sex maniac. If you're more interested in building a successful career, go for the moneygrubber. If you like painting or baking or creative pursuits, go with the artiste.
After you make your sim, the game drops you into a tutorial of sorts, giving you hints about what goals to pursue, and how to fulfill your needs and wants. The interface is pretty good and well fitting for a console, you "drive" your sim using the left analog stick, while controlling the camera with the right analog stick, much like any third person platformer game. You interact with objects using the A button and sometimes picking from a pop up menu. The other controls basically let you see information, like using the D pad to view the status of your various needs to make sure they are being met, and to review your sim's goals. You can also use B to cancel actions but don't expect the game to respond very quickly, it seems once it's doing it's thing it takes its own sweet time to respond to a cancel.
Your goals are dictated by the choices you made while creating the sim. If you picked sex maniac, then your goal will be to find sims, flirt them up, then do the "woohoo" (yes, that is what it calls it). If you're the moneygrubber then you need to start developing your career asap.
Unfortunately, a lot of your time is not going to be spent on pursuing goals or anything exciting. Nope, you get to make sure your sim eats enough. You get to make sure he goes to the bathroom when he needs to. Showers when he is supposed to. Sleeps when he's tired. Cleans up after himself and his messy roommates. Seriously, this isn't AI, this is AS, artificial stupidity. Your sim isn't even capable of finding a bed on his own, if your sleep meter runs out he drops to the floor and sleeps right there. And you are constantly having to do these mundane, boring things over and over.
But at least you get to pursue a career, right? Well, sort of. You can pick out a job, but all you really get to do is be at the car pool spot on time and then while you're at work you can control other sims, you don't get to see what happens on the job, or even make any meaningful career moves, the promotions and such just happen.
So what else is there? Well, you can buy stuff for your house. Better beds to get better rest, etc. You can decorate it. You can get new wardrobes on. New stuff like this opens up as you complete more of your goals.
You can also unlock new recipes and cook different meals, and these different foods can have a different impact on your sims, especially if you give your food creations to other sims that you meet. If there's a budding chef in you, this could add an interesting element to the game.
There are different things you can do with your sim for recreation. You can watch TV, listen to the radio, dance, relax in a comfy chair, read the newspaper, surf in a backyard surf machine, play checkers with a chicken, and more! This part of the game breaks away from the monotony of the mundane aspects, but only for a brief respite before your needs fall low and you have to do something to satiate them.
You can also interact with other sims (computer controlled ones). This interaction seems pretty interesting at first, doing card tricks, juggling vacuum cleaners, telling dirty jokes and dirty little secrets. But you will quickly see all there is to see, all the possible interactions, and then it's just monotony over and over to try and win over new sim friends and lovers. You can also be mean and make sims mad or kick them out, which is fun but ultimately very unproductive.
But the real "fun" comes from having multiple sims to control. Now you will have to try and juggle all the wants and needs between multiple sims, trying to get them all satisfied while the minutes of the virtual day tick down second by second. This is where the boredom starts, since you have to be extremely efficient to get all the sims satisfied. The game would have been better if you just had the one sim and if you could actually do things besides the small little area where you live.
Freeplay does give you the option to be architect for a day, but the home designer interface it not really that intuitive or easy to use, and ultimately this aspect of the game just isn't that compelling.
The Sims 2 features 720p widescreen support, so if you have high definition, the game looks incredibly crisp. It's still pretty unrealistic and cartoonish, but not in a bad way. Without the HD though, the game appears pretty blurry and fuzzy, and the lack of detail on some of the items you interact with can actually hinder gameplay. A lot of the game is figuring out what different icons are by sight, and in HD mode this is much, much easier.
The cartoonish graphical style is pretty entertaining, but it's more or less the same style that has been used in the Sims games for years, with maybe a few more tweaks to animations and character models. While the character models look pretty good when zoomed in, you really can't see what you're doing unless you zoom out so you can see the layout of your house, and even in HD the characters aren't detailed enough when zoomed out to see much other than the color of shirt and pants.
There's nothing exceptional to the sound of The Sims 2. The music is elevator music. Not something you'd ever want to drop into your cd player, I'd wager. You can turn on a radio if you'd rather hear some pop-music-style music without actually being pop music you're familiar with. You can't even use a custom soundtrack from music stored on your Xbox.
Sound effects are actually pretty sparse except for the incoherent babble of the sims talking to one another. Having a conversation with another sim is pretty hilarious at first because the sims speak in babble-tongue and you can only get the gist of the conversation by little text bubbles with drawings of whatever it is they are talking about over their heads. Overall sound is not really special but not bad either, very mundane and non-offensive.
Aside from the fairly long and involved single player modes, The Sims 2 supports 2 player mode, but there are some problems with this mode that make it difficult to recommend. For one thing, when you socialize with another player's sim, they can do nothing while you completely direct the one-sided conversation/engagement. This is quite simply, boring. There is no way for one player to choose a reaction to whatever the other player did, it's all just automatic responses based on your sim's personality and whatever other factors come into play. There's no meaningful way to have your sims interact well.
Another problem with the multiplayer is that you can't see the text descriptions of your immediate goals by pressing the X button like you can when you are in single player mode. So it's pretty hard to tell what it is you're supposed to be doing to make progress in the game.
You could probably replay this game a lot, especially trying out different aspirations for different sims, if you end up liking it. There's also a bunch of hours of gameplay just to progress through to the various areas of the story mode a single time.
One gripe that takes a point away from this game's value is the fact that the so called "manual" for the game has basically nothing useful in it whatsoever. There were many times where I knew what my goals were but wasn't really sure what to do to achieve them. So either be prepared to figure stuff out on your own, or plan to splash out for a strategy guide to get the real manual. A game this complex needs more than 8 pages from a tiny booklet to describe enough of how to play.
The Sims 2 does a lot of things right. It has a pretty good interface that isn't terribly complex to learn, and "driving" the sims in third person camera mode is actually a very good way to handle the lack of a mouse on the console platform. Plus you get more attached to a sim that you are directly controlling rather than just pointing to with a little arrow. The graphics in HD mode are very crisp and attractive, and detailed enough to see what's going on in the complex arrangement of icons and game world objects.
What kind of gamer does it take to find appealing a game about doing the mundane aspects of daily life among a set of simulated people? Perhaps this game is aiming for a more casual gaming market, and no one can deny the popularity of the Sims franchise. If you think you might be this kind of gamer, then I don't think there is anything terribly wrong about this version of the Sims that would turn you away, especially if you have a high-definition TV and HD cables for your Xbox. If you've already got this game for the PC or even have had your fill of the earlier games in this series, The Sims 2 might not offer enough new to really get you excited about it.